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Fillmore County Board discusses Heartland, defers any action


Fri, Oct 10th, 2003
Posted in Features

It was the Commissioners turn on Tuesday to state their positions —if they had one—regarding the proposed tire burning plant that has raised so many questions since the onset of the project. County Attorney Matt Opat outlined the proposed project’s current status in the court system, and the board’s options.1) Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection (SEMEP) has asked for a summary judgement ordering an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Heartland. Oral arguments will be heard starting December 2, 2003. Judge Robert Benson has stepped down and Judge Joseph Wieners will be presiding.2) The summary judgement is against MPCA, and Heartland Energy & Recycling, LLC. 3) Briefs are now being filed with reports not to exceed 35 pages.4) At the commissioners’ last board meeting members of SEMEP requested the county either act as an Interpleader or Intervener. Opat explained that to be an Interpleader, the county would have to bring on legal action. At this point, it doesn’t appear the county has the grounds to act as an Interpleader. To become an Intervener, the county would have to take the position that an EIS is necessary before taking the burning plant project any further.5) The legal term/position "Amicus curiae" (Friend of the court), which was brought up at the last board meeting by a SEMEP member as a possible legal tool does not pertain to the board in this instance.Opat sited two possible options the board could consider as to how the county may or may not play a part in this issue:1) Simply do nothing at all. The case will proceed forward on its own merits and the county will have no liability at this point.2) Adopt a resolution that shows support, opposition, or neutrality regarding the conflict. In order for the county to proceed forward, the board needs to establish their position, as individuals and as a whole. As discussion began on this note, Kay Laging, a SEMEP member, emphasized that the plant’s health issues do not just pertain to the city of Preston, or even stop at the county’s borders. Possible repercussions may be far reaching. When Chairman Marc Prestby put the question to his fellow commissioners as to how they would like to handle the situation, a heavy silence was broken as Commissioner Duane Bakke offered his views first."I look at the Heartland proposal as something different, new technology. It’s good to recycle," stated Bakke. However, new technology can bring on some uncertainty and Bakke is in favor of an EIS. He made it very clear that this is not taking a stand either for or against the plant. Bakke did stipulate he would not spend money on appeals and the like.Commissioner Helen Bicknese spoke up next, with concerns of legal obligations if the county were to step to the plate. What legal costs would there be? The county’s budget is suffering already from state cuts. "We don’t want to burden the taxpayers," said Bicknese. So long as the county does not become a party to the lawsuit, there are no legal or financial obligations.Commissioner Randy Dahl agreed with Bakke in the need for an EIS. "I’m pro business. See where the chips fall (with the study)", backed Dahl. He doesn’t like the idea of doing an EIS just for the sake of doing one, but there appears to be too many unanswered questions, at least from SEMEP’s viewpoint. Dahl was also concerned over zoning issues between city and county. He did not want to jump the gun and move in on what might not be county business. "Does the county entering into this add any weight?" Dahl questioned the attorney. Opat said his gut reaction was ‘No’, the board is merely giving their opinion on the merits of a possible EIS. The commissioner wondered why the city hadn’t moved on the request for an EIS sooner. There are still unanswered questions regarding this."I’m leaning towards doing nothing", spoke up Commiss-ioner Chuck Amunrud. "The timing factor is a big thing," Amunrud pointed out. He believed SEMEP should have come to the commissioners several months ago. How effective can the board be now, though? There probably should have been a statement done, granted Amunrud. There are also the potential jobs and the need to recycle effectively to consider. Bakke pointed out once more that the county wasn’t disagreeing with the city’s ability to zone. It’s an EIS position that either makes the project work or not. "If an EIS is approved, I feel very much that the project should be allowed", concluded Bakke. Attorney Opat reminded the board that the focal point is: does the plant have the potential of environmental effects? If so, that demands an EIS.It was Chairman Prestby’s turn to express his thoughts. "We’ve only heard one side, and it was brought to us way late," said Prestby. He would like to hear what Bob Maust has to say about SEMEP’s concerns. Prestby noted once again that even if the board went through the motions of passing a resolution supporting an EIS statement, what would be the point? Laging once again spoke up, explaining that it would be good for the county’s residents to hear what the board has to say on the issue. At this point Bakke stated he wouldn’t propose a resolution if it meant splitting the board up. Dahl believed that this wouldn’t happen, that the commissioners have had "good public discourse" before and they’d handled themselves well.The board agreed to put the issue on the agenda again and would like to hear from Robert Maust before taking a final vote.

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